Friday, August 19, 2011

If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

They say every cloud has a silver lining...

From NPR: Cracking The Marijuana Genome In Search Of Therapeutic Highs

A startup biotech company called Medicinal Genomics has just announced that they have completed the sequencing of the marijuana genome. Hooray Science! Right?

Well, that all depends on your position. Apparently the goal of Medicinal Genomics CEO Kevin McKernan now that his company has completed the genome sequencing of the plant is to begin breeding genetically altered plants without THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana that provides its delightful high. The plan now is to study the genomes of other similar plants that do not contain THC, like industrial hemp, to isolate the genes that produce the chemical and effectively breed them out of the plant.

McKernan, who has spent most of his career studying tumors in the human body, says there are 84 other chemicals in the Cannabis sativa plant that have therapeutic benefits. His goal is to produce marijuana plants with heightened levels of these various chemicals, and lower levels of the natural THC, in order to test these new plants for medicinal properties in treating ailments from cancer to multiple sclerosis.

Has no one in the field of science heard of the theory of Unintended Consequences? If we have learned nothing else from the great strides of science in the last century, it is that the deeper we step into the unknown, the more intense the ripples of effect those footsteps create. Think of the sheer number of things that have been discovered purely by accident. Penicillin, Coca-Cola, Teflon, the pace-maker, hell even LSD was just a big laboratory goof. And those are only some of the positive accidental discoveries! Except maybe Teflon, depending on whether you're talking to an environmentalist or a chef.

My point is, if we have this plant that produces all of these therapeutic chemicals in one place naturally, why do we feel the need to tinker and tamper with it? Why genetically alter the plant to remove the THC? And don't say it's because the THC doesn't have any medical value, it's the primary ingredient in Sativex, the prescription drug popular in Europe that inspired McKernan to start his research.

But there are two faces to every coin, and like I said at the opening of this post, every cloud has a silver lining. While McKernan may be trying to breed all the THC out of the plant, in acknowledgement of how difficult it is to legally study the plant in the United States, he has published his findings on Amazon's EC2, a public data cloud, for free. While all of this genetic mumbo jumbo is admittedly way over my simple head, there are some whip-smart pot heads out there who can work some serious magic with that kind of information at their fingertips. I know, I know, this goes completely against my "leave well enough alone" argument, but just imagine the possibilities! Maybe we can start breeding the THC into other plants! A tasty, juicy orange for breakfast in the morning, with just a tiny extra kick. Sounds divine.

Or we could just end up with some deformed freak of nature. Frankenstein style.

\m/ ROCK \m/

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